Tahchin (Iranian Salty Crispy Saffron Rice “Cake”)
If Oakland’s Helia Sadeghi had to eat one dish for the rest of her life, it would be crisp, buttery, comforting tahchin. At Sadeghi’s childhood home in Iran, the gold-domed rice “cake” layered with saffron-dyed yogurt and chicken appeared for special occasions. Birthday. Get good grades. sometimes tahchin was The occasion.
“My mom worked two jobs, so if she had a day off, she would ask me what I wanted her to do, and I would always ask for tahchin,” she says. “Hers was the best.”
Featured on Sadeghi’s Big Dill Kitchen website and calls for a large nonstick pot with a lid, this recipe would make the perfect centerpiece for a Nowruz meal, she says. While the traditional Persian New Year meal is rice with herbs and fish to represent rebirth and fertility, Sadeghi says you should do what feels special to you. For her, that is tahchin.
“It’s a celebratory meal, a show,” she says. “And Nowruz is definitely a special occasion.”
Tahchin (“Iranian Salty Crispy Saffron Rice Cake”)
Serves 4 to 6
1½ cups of basmati rice
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt, strained
1 teaspoon of turmeric
3 teaspoons sea salt or more to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup strongly prepared saffron, divided use (see note below)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 stick butter, softened, divided use
1 cup shredded cooked chicken
1/2 cup barberries, rinsed
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1/4 cup pistachio kernels or 2 tablespoons sliced pistachios
Fill a large pot half to two-thirds full with salted water and bring to a boil.
Rinse the rice until the water runs clear, then add it to the pot of boiling water. Boil until tender but not completely cooked, about 5 to 7 minutes. A good rule of thumb is that when you squash a grain of rice between your fingers, it’s smooth but still feels grainy. Use a colander to drain the rice and rinse well under cold water to stop cooking. Set aside.
In a bowl, combine the yogurt, eggs, turmeric, salt, black pepper, and all but 2 tablespoons of the saffron water. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, add the shredded chicken. Pour in the reserved 2 tablespoons of prepared saffron, then mix. Add 1/4 cup of the yogurt mixture over the chicken and saffron and mix. (To make vegetarian tahchin, just leave out the chicken.)
Place a large nonstick pot over medium heat. Cut the stick of butter into three equal parts. Add the vegetable oil and a third of the butter to the pot and allow to melt. Pour 1/3 cup of the yogurt mixture into the bottom of the pot, followed by half of the parboiled rice. Top with half of the yogurt mixture, mix gently to combine, then gently flatten on top.
Spread the shredded chicken mixture over the rice layer. Sprinkle a handful of barberries on top, if desired.
Mix the rest of the rice and another third of the butter with the rest of the yogurt mixture in the blender jar. Spread it over the chicken layer in the pot and gently flatten it on top, so that the filling is sandwiched between the two layers of rice.Wrap the pot lid in a towel and tie it at the top. Put the lid on the pot. Cook over low heat for 40 to 50 minutes. (Cooking time may vary depending on your stove. Use the lowest setting, and check every 10 to 20 minutes, if your stove is especially hot.) Raise the heat to medium for the last 5 to 10 minutes, but watch closely so it doesn’t burn.
While the tahchin is cooking, add the remaining 1/3 stick of butter to a skillet over medium heat, followed by the barberries and sugar, if using. Sauté for 30 seconds to a minute, then remove from heat. Add the pistachios and mix.
When the bottom of the tahchin is nice and crisp, flip it onto a plate. (This is best accomplished by placing a plate over the pot. Grasp the plate and pot handles, say a short prayer, rock the pot, and turn it over in one swift motion. Then remove the pot.) Coat the tahchin with the butter. barberries and pistachios. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Note: To prepare saffron, boil water in a kettle. Add a generous pinch of saffron threads and a pinch of salt in a mortar and crush it with the mallet. Transfer the saffron to a small heatproof bowl. Pour 1/3 cup of boiling water over the saffron, cover with a towel, and let steep for 10 minutes.
— Recipe courtesy of Helia Sadeghi, BigDillKitchen.com